#FRONTROW: Prepare for the most divisive election ever

Tuesday September 12 2017

We must all stand up against people who seek to

We must all stand up against people who seek to divide us on the basis of tribe or political party for their own ambitions, or that of the rich man they support. PHOTO| FILE 

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Stuck in the heart of Mombasa’s Changamwe neighbourhood and running late for my flight to Nairobi on Sunday, I hailed a boda boda and raced to the airport. The rider, an efficient, soft-spoken gentleman, was wearing a red Jubilee-branded reflector jacket. I posted the picture on my social media pages, where it quickly led to a firestorm of controversy.

The charge was that I was subtly campaigning for Jubilee and it was a new low for me when journalists are supposed to be neutral. Though I didn’t even notice his reflector until I got on — I would have hired him even if I did — Nasa supporters were offended that I was showing such open bias.

Our national conversation has dropped so far that an innocent ride on a bike with someone who got a free reflector jacket is seen as a political statement. Even if it was, the intolerance Kenyans have for people who disagree with them has always been ridiculous. I don’t know if it is a failure of our education system or our socialisation, but we are not built to consider opposing views.

The coping mechanism I’ve seen employed by most people is to attack the speaker personally in a bid to discredit what they are saying, instead of making a counter-argument.

The well held maxim “don’t raise your voice, improve your argument” is completely lost on some Kenyans.

Every good point goes to die on Facebook, but political rallies have become the new vehicles for particularly vicious ad hominem attacks.

These are the early days of the campaign for the fresh presidential election but politicians are ratcheting up the rhetoric in new and surprising ways.

Speaking before adoring crowds, leaders are taking liberty with the truth, playing fast and loose with facts and often just plainly lying without an ounce of shame.

This is how the game is played in Kenya but the stakes are higher now more than ever and restraint should be obvious for any responsible speakers.

Yet all we’ve seen are rallies where senior leaders in the country sometimes just make up stuff and shout it loud to the masses.

When people can’t even agree on what is opinion and what is fact because they see everything through their bias, this election is going to be arguably the most divisive ever.

The parties have a right to carry out aggressive campaigns to get those presidential votes, but they are not entitled to their own facts. President Uhuru Kenyatta should not denigrate the Supreme Court while his posse — which includes several senior lawyers — claps.

Nasa leader Raila Odinga should not diminish the members of the court’s Bench and expect that his followers will not pick up cues from him.

Statements coming from both sides have been incendiary and unnecessarily destructive, and if that continues we all have reason to be afraid.

In one rare coincidence, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga both believe that their victory was stolen from them, but by different people.

The President has admitted repeatedly that his first comments after the ruling came down were because of anger, but what a moment it was! That was the opening bell for what will likely be a bruising battle to capture State House.

I’ve whined here before about the lack of quality political discourse in this country, but even I couldn’t have imagined how badly poisoned the environment has become. Politics is the most discussed subject on social media, but it is without nuance or context, just a regurgitation of some silly talking points from the major parties.

Loose talk, like some of the careless statements we’ve seen from some so-called leaders, could plunge this country into war again. It will upset reasonable people, worry those who love peace, and betray all the pretences of cohesion that we work so hard to keep. This is too obvious to even point out here, but in these extraordinary times it is worth sounding like a broken record: the country will be here after October 17.

We must all stand up against people who seek to divide us on the basis of tribe or political party for their own ambitions, or that of the rich man they support.
The usual suspects are well known and even when they call for violence in the name of their party leader, it is surprising that there has been no condemnation from within their ranks.

A wrong is a wrong, even when it is committed by someone who is on your side. We’re still over a month out from the fresh election and it feels like we’re just days away from it because of how supercharged the political noise is. Prepare for the most divisive election in a generation, and hope that the country survives it all.

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